Venice Biennale bans official Russian delegations over Ukraine

The Venice Biennale arts organisation on Wednesday announced a ban on anyone linked to the Russian government in protest over the invasion of Ukraine, as Milan's La Scala opera house sacked a conductor over his support for Putin.

The Venice Biennale artis organisation has banned Russian delegations over Ukraine.
The Venice Biennale artis organisation has banned Russian delegations over Ukraine. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

“For those who oppose the current regime in Russia there will always be a place in the exhibitions of La Biennale, from art to architecture, and in its festivals, from cinema to dance, from music to theatre,” the Venice Biennale, one of Italy’s top cultural institutions, said in a statement.

“As long as this situation persists, La Biennale rejects any form of collaboration with those who, on the contrary, have carried out or supported such a grievous act of aggression.”

It said it “will therefore not accept the presence at any of its events of official delegations, institutions or persons tied in any capacity to the Russian government”.

The Russian Pavilion at the Biennale’s International Art Exhibition, which opens next month, has already been closed after its artists and curator pulled out in protest at the conflict.

READ ALSO: Russian invasion: What has Italy’s response been so far?

The Biennale joins a growing number of cultural organisations dropping those considered to be close to Moscow following the invasion last week of Ukraine, Russia’s pro-Western neighbour.

Also on Wednesday, Milan’s La Scala opera house said it had dismissed Russian conductor Valery Gergiev from upcoming performances of a Tchaikovsky opera, following his refusal to denounce the invasion of Ukraine.

A slew of orchestras and festivals in Europe and the United States, including the Philharmonie de Paris and Carnegie Hall, have already cancelled engagements with Gergiev, who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Milan's La Scala opera house has fired conductor Valery Gergiev over his support of Putin.

Milan’s La Scala opera house has fired conductor Valery Gergiev over his support of Putin. Photo: Miguel MEDINA / AFP

La Scala said in a statement it had sent a letter to Gergiev on Tuesday night informing him that he would be replaced for the March performances of “Pique Dame”, which premiered last month.

It was the also 68-year-old’s second dismissal by La Scala, which on Tuesday replaced him for a March 7 concert with the opera’s music director, Riccardo Chailly.

Considered one of the world’s greatest conductors, Gergiev was fired on Tuesday by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, where he had served as principal conductor since 2015.

READ ALSO: Flight bans to visas – what does the EU’s Ukraine response mean for Italy?

La Scala said following Russia’s invasion on Thursday, Gergiev had been sent a letter “inviting him to speak out in favour of a peaceful resolution of the conflict”.

The decision was taken in agreement with Milan’s mayor and the president of the opera foundation, it said.

“Not having received any response six days later, and three days from the next performance, another solution was inevitable,” it said.

The next performance of the opera is scheduled for Saturday.

Gergiev will be replaced by 27-year-old Russian Timur Zangiev, La Scala said.

Gergiev has known Putin for three decades and  proven fiercely loyal in the past, including over the 2014 annexation of Crimea.

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How long will it take Italy to wean itself off Russian gas?

Italy's government has repeatedly said it plans to end its dependence on Russia for gas supplies following the invasion of Ukraine. But as the timeline keeps changing, when and how could this happen?

How long will it take Italy to wean itself off Russian gas?

Italy is heavily dependent on Russian gas, but has been seeking new sources since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine as part of an effort to end this reliance in the coming years.

But it remains unclear whether Italy can really end its dependence on Russia for its gas supply – or when this might be feasible.

READ ALSO: What does Italy’s Algerian gas deal mean for energy supplies?

The government has been seeking new sources since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, including with a recent deal to boost supplies from Algeria.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi said last week the country could be independent of Russian gas by the second half of 2024 – the latest in a series of changing estimates.

“Government estimates indicate that we can make ourselves independent from Russian gas in the second half of 2024,” Draghi told the Senate, while adding that the “first effects” of this plan would be felt by the end of this year.

He said his government was also seeking to boost its production of renewable energy, including by “destroying bureaucratic barriers” to investment, saying it was the “only way” to free Italy from having to import fossil fuels.

Explained: Why and how Italy will pay for Russian gas in rubles

In April, Italy‘s Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani estimated the country would no longer need Russian gas within 18 months, following an earlier prediction that it could take until 2025.

Italy is one of Europe’s biggest users and importers of natural gas, importing 90 percent of its gas supply with 45 percent of that coming from Russia – up from 27 percent ten years ago.

Italy now imports 29 billion cubic metres of Russian gas a year, which Cingolani said in March “must be replaced” – but he didn’t specify with what.

Analysts have said there are “a lot of questions” about how helpful Italy’s gas deal with Algeria will be.

Despite its vast natural gas reserves, Algeria is already exporting at close to full capacity.

Draghi repeated his strong support for EU sanctions on Moscow last week, including a proposed ban on imports of Russian oil, although this is currently being blocked by Hungary.

“We must continue to keep up the pressure on Russia through sanctions, because we must bring Moscow to the negotiating table,” he said.

But for now, Italian energy giant Eni says it plans to pay for Russian gas supplies in rubles, meeting a demand from Vladimir Putin.

It was not immediately clear whether the plan would fall foul of European Union sanctions, although Eni said it was “not incompatible”.

The company said its decision to open the accounts was “taken in compliance with the current international sanctions framework” and that Italian authorities had been informed.